Imatges de pÓgina

between the circular and pointed styles—which lasted through the greater part of the twelfth century, when the circular and pointed arches are frequently-as in the nave and south transept before us—used indiscriminately in the same building. The ornaments, although generally partaking of the earlier style, begin to be better executed, and more elaborate; and the general appearance of the building assumes a lighter character. The first style of Gothic in this country, The Early English, prevailed through the greater part of the twelfth century; and of this style the subject in question is one of the numerous examples that followed its introduction in every part of the kingdom. Among these the variations, in all save dimensions, are so slight and unimportant, that the description of almost any one monastic structure of that century applies to every other of the same style and period. We possess in the ruins of Llanthony a pure example of this style, unchanged by any subsequent additions or alterations; for as the Abbey became reduced both in numbers and revenues, immediately after the establishment of the Abbey at Gloucester, it shared in none of the changes introduced by the decorated style; but has continued to the present day what it was in the middle of the twelfth century. To account for the splendour of conventual churches in general, we have only to remember that personal expense or secular indulgence were highly culpable in a monk; and that whatever was expended in ornamenting the Church was glorifying God.

William of Llanthony--the warrior monk already noticed—appears to have had followers in his penance; for Peter Damian mentions a man who wore an iron corslet next his skin, had iron rings around his limbs, so that he performed with pain and difficulty his Metaneas, or penitential inclinations, and very often dashed his hands upon the pavement. In “Strutt's Dresses” is a female pilgrim lying on the ground, apparently to perform this penance of slapping the ground. The lady of Sir Thomas More, in reply to her husband, who counselled her to desist from scolding her servants during Lent, replied that she wore a “Monk's girdle," and therefore had nothing to fear.* The virtues of the monk's girdle, it appears, were equivalent to those of the cowl, already alluded to in our notice of Tinterne.

The revenues possessed by Llanthony appear to have been very considerable at the outset; but through negligence or mismanagement-or rather by the prejudicial influence of a rival abbey—they fell off gradually, and at the

Sir Thomas More said to his lady that the con- heavenward,”-shewing him a frier's girdle. "Alas! sideration of the time, for it was Lent-should re I fear me," said he, “this step will not bring you strayne her from so scolding her servants. " Tush, up one step higher.”– Camd. Re quoted Brit. tush, my lord,” said she ; 'Lookye! here is one step to Monach. p. 173.




dissolution were valued at a sum* considerably less than those of Tinterne Abbey.

When we read, in the Monastic Annals, of entire districts, towns, and villages being conveyed to monasteries, we are surprised at the boundless liberality of the founders. But when we reflect that, at the time of these princely endowments, the land, in many instances, was neither cultivated nor peopled, the question of prodigal generosity is materially altered. At the period of transition, as it may be termed, when it passed from the hands of the feudal Baron to the Abbot or Prior, the products of the consecrated territory were often nothing more than wood and pasture; nor, until it had been long subjected to the system of agriculture, so generally practised and taught by the monks, was it brought into a state fit for the sustenance of man. If we compare—so far as written documents enable us—the state of agriculture and its population, when these lands were transferred to the Abbot, with the condition they were in when taken from him, we shall see very clearly to what a vast amount they had improved under monastic management; and how much cause there was to applaud the stewardship of the venerable monks, in whose hands the physical aspect of the country underwent an entire change. Theirs were truly the arts of peace. Obliged, by the rule of their order, to plant their convents in sterile and uncultivated wilds, where intercourse with more favoured districts was neither easy nor expedient, circumstances required that they should, like the apostles and fathers of old, depend for daily bread on the labour of their hands. While some went to

While some went to prayer, others went to work; and thus the blessing of heaven and the bounty of earth were believed to descend upon them, and abide with them, in those sacred habitations which had sprung up under their hands, and exercised on everything around them a mild and harmonizing influence.

This spirit of improvement, however, varied according to the different Orders of which the great monastic brotherhood was composed. To those who—in imitation of the Baptist-desired to limit their physical wants to a diet of " locusts and wild honey," or to whatever the unaided hand of Nature might place within their reach, were content to consume their days in fasting and prayer. And observing—as he probably did—that whenever wealth and luxury had increased in religious houses, strict discipline had as certainly relaxed, the Monk of Llanthony appears to have preferred the desert to any of those "seductive landscapes” into which it might have been, in some degree, converted by means of industry and manual labour. He had also before his

Dugdale gives it at £71. 38. 4d.; Speed at £112. 18. 5d. At the Dissolution, John Ambrose was Prior, and with John Nealand and three other Canons subscribed to the Supremacy in 1534.


eyes the baneful effects produced by the luxurious indulgences of New Llanthony upon the minds of the absent brothers, whose piety, that had preserved its fervour amongst rocks and glens, became vapid and lukewarm when transplanted to the rich landscapes of the Severn. Where riches abounded, “pride and license did much more abound.” It was better to continue


but pious friar on the banks of the Honddy, than become a luxurious wine-bibbing canon in the Vale of Gloucester.

The space, therefore, in which the most distant resemblance to ancient cultivation can be traced is comparatively small. It was, perhaps, under a strong conviction of great piety and great property being in their very nature antagonistic, that the “ Province of Berkeley," which the King had offered to the Canons of Llanthony, was so firmly declined. The vineyards, which it is understood were then common on the banks of the Severn, were not likely to 'fortify the mind against temptation, or reconcile the brotherhood to the abstinence and austerities of conventual life. But when he speaks of the tract as a “province,” we can easily imagine that, fertile as the native soil undoubtedly was, only a small portion of it was under cultivation; so that the annual revenue bore an exceedingly small proportion to its extent in acres. And so it was with the almost innumerable tracts of Church lands in every part of the kingdom; for until they were brought into cultivation and crop, their value was merely nominal.

And how much is due to the skill and perseverance of the monks in the encouragement of agriculture? There is scarcely a hill or valley in the kingdom, from which their judicious exercise of plough, and spade, and mattock, did not produce its annual return in the necessaries of life. And hence the revenues, that in the course of years and centuries flowed in upon them, were the legitimate result of a liberal and vigilant economy. . We are too apt to forget, whilst reckoning up the vast territories bequeathed from age to age to the church by penitent benefactors, that these same tracts were, in many instances, of little or no current value to their original owners; and that it was only by passing them into more skilful and industrious hands, that they became actually appreciable, as corn lands, orchards, and vineyards.

The Canons of Llanthony, in their local position, had neither the advantages of a fertile soil, nor the acquired habits, nor obligations of Rule, which rendered its cultivation imperative. Their revenues were drawn from a distance

-some from remote parts in Ireland. But in their immediate neighbourhood, the monks had a brook and enclosed ponds that produced fish; forests that bred herds of deer, hares, and wild fowl; while patches of garden, orchard, and rye-field, supplied their table with that allowance of fruits and vegetables, herbs and roots, and coarse bread, which formed the daily items of their scanty fare. But when a stranger of note or a noble pilgrim arrived at the gate, the Prior's




table assumed the appearance of more than frugal hospitality; and all that forest or river could furnish for the entertainment of the honoured guest was liberally supplied. As an established

Sanctuary—from which even the greatest offenders were not excluded—we have already noticed the shame and desecration inflicted upon Llanthony by a powerful native, who in the hour of despair had fled to its gate for shelter. To this disastrous visit no opposition could be offered. The sanctuary of St. John was alike available to all—to the guilty as well as to the innocent. And if it was too frequently a refuge for those who had set all laws at defiance, it was happily still more so to the sick and the friendless; to the helpless victim of oppression, who from the horns of the altar appealed to heaven for redress; and to the penitent, who could find no escape from the snares of evil associates, but in the confessional and the cloister. It had been a difficult task, in such circumstances, to discriminate between the claims of those who, in their distress, flew to the sanctuary—between great criminals and true penitents; and therefore it was better the gate should be open alike to all, than that one sincere penitent should be driven back into a world which, in the bitter hours of remorse, he had resolved to abandon. In such institutions there was a gentle union of wisdom and mercy, which the refinement of later times has done much to loosen, and little to perpetuate.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

Of Llanthony, as it now appears, the following sketch is from the pen of a recent visitor; and the contrast is picturesque and striking :

“At the western end of the Nave rise two towers-one of them, with

* See the notice of Tinterne Abbey.

modernized doors and windows, is inhabited. An open arcade extends in front of part of the adjoining cloister, and advancing through the open door it shaded, we found ourselves in a long vaulted half-parlour half-kitchen, with old arms suspended above the fire-place; sides of bacon nobly flanking the whitewashed walls; old chairs and cabinets, and various minor articles of furniture, all arranged with a neatness which betokened that the presiding genius of the place was feminine. Just as we had come to this conclusion, forth stepped from an inner recess the gentle tenant of the abode of the ancient monks, with a quiet simplicity of manner which went to the heart of a weary pilgrim, and made him feel instantly as if at home, and welcome. A little repose, and a cup of tea beside a blazing hearth—for even in summer the air is shrewd among these hills at evening-entirely refreshed us ; and just as the sun was going down in the west, we sallied forth to see the ruins. Albeit the hospitality in early times was here dispensed by shaven monks, and now by maidens fair, there is a singular charm felt by all who visit Llanthony, in this quiet living within the precincts of the Abbey, which interests the imagination, and helps to blend agreeably the past and present.

“With this half-dreamy feeling I went forth, and ascended a slight eminence to the westward, whence the whole pile extended at length its ruined towers and arches, half-buried in trees, and overhung with the lofty hills which shut in the vale, and opened no view to the distant world beyond. These hills were cultivated half-way up their sides; a few farms, each sending up its column of smoke, appeared at intervals, with paths leading up into the wild heath that clothed the summits. The evening sun cast a broad red light upon the west front and towers of the pile, and half gilded the remaining portion. I thought I had never beheld, even among the secluded abbeys of the Yorkshire dales, anything more romantically serene. It was getting dusk ere I could tear myself from the spot. The moon was that evening at the full; and it

gave me the opportunity of rambling among the ruins, before I repaired to my dormitory in the abbey tower, which I ascended by a narrow flight of stone steps. One might, in idea, have gone back to the olden time, and fancied oneself a pilgrim in very earnest, receiving hospitality from the ancient tenants of the place, had it not been for the dainty whiteness of the bed, which occupied a story of the old tower—far different, I trow, from the rude pallets of these romantic but uncomfortable ages."'*

* The north aisle is occupied by a wash-house and The western front is very perfect and beautiful, but skittle-ground. The cloisters, dormitories, and other the tracery of the great window is obliterated. The offices are used for the reception of visitors, under the owner of the property is Walter Savage Landor, Esq., direction of a resident steward. Latterly, the ruins the poet. - Archæol. Journ. appear to have suffered little from time or desecration.

« AnteriorContinua »